Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pakistan - Dangerous impasse

By Afrasiab Khattak

In response to a question about the possibility of talks with Pakistan recently Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi posed an interesting question; he said to whom in Pakistan should he talk to? Mr Modi might have said that for scoring a political point but he was not too wide off the mark in what he was saying. Military’s control over the commanding heights of the Pakistani state system has reached a stage where it is difficult to call it a complete civilian system. Democratic transition that had started with the general election in February 2008 and had proceeded forward in the following years has come to a grinding halt. The space in governance captured by elected civilian leadership in in the post Musharraf era has not only been recaptured by the military but the later has assumed such vast powers in policy making and day today running of the administration that can be conceivable only under martial law. Expressing deep concern over growing isolation of the country in international relations many Senators in their discussion on foreign policy on Wednesday pointed out in unequivocal terms that the General Head Quarter (GHQ) has taken over formulation of the foreign policy of the country. The federal democratic parliamentary system envisioned by the 1973 Constitution is not any more functional. It is replaced by a controlled democracy which has been the favourite system of the military rulers of the country. The quantum of vertical and horizontal democracy is decided by the generals. The widening gap between de facto and de jure is tearing the system apart. While some of the so called political parties have lent their shoulder to military for putting pressure on civilian government, the sitting government has also contributed in the process by putting its back on the Parliament and by weakening democratic institutions.
The situation shaped by the erosion of constitutional rule and emergence of quasi-military rule is fraught with dangers. The nation-building project in the federation of Pakistan is still in an embryonic stage. Army’s strategy for shooting its way through obstacles instead of leaving it to a democratic consensus was the single most important factor in dismemberment of the country in 1971. The situation is more precarious today as Punjab has not only a bigger population than the rest of the three provinces put together but Punjabi ruling elites also effectively control all the levers of state power. The present political tussle in the country is basically a struggle for power between the elected political Punjabi elite and the Punjabi dominated military bureaucratic elite. Sindhi, Pashtun and Baloch elites have only a side role. The federal structure of the state is in shambles. Rangers are hounding Muhajirs and Sindhis in Sindh, trampling under their feet the provincial autonomy provided by the 18th Constitutional Amendment. Baloch are embroiled in a bloody nationalist insurgency being crushed by the full might of state. Demolition squad of Taliban has been let loose on Pashtuns to kill them and deconstruct them as a national identity apart from implementing the policy of “ strategic depth” devised by the Punjabi elites. The social contract seems to be withering away. Growing social and political disempowerment of the people of smaller ethnic groups is creating political alienation which is quite visible and has the potential for creating ethnic earthquakes. As we know ethnic earthquakes have the capacity to travel across international borders without visas or passports.
Pakistan is far more isolated internationally than ever before. Pakistan is at daggers drawn with three out of its four immediate neighbours. Scores of Pakistanis were recently arrested in Saudi Arabia under the charges of terrorism. Relations with US are too bad to be glossed over by diplomatic rhetoric. The country’s international image is in tatters as important world powers publicly express their concern about the presence of dangerous terror networks in a country armed with nuclear weapons. After prolonged existence of Al qaida, IS is also eying Pakistan, the high sounding denials of the government notwithstanding. The presence of extremist and terrorist networks in the country equipped with Wahabi, Salfi and Takfiri ideologies makes the environment very conducive for the rise of IS. It is just a matter of time for the existing networks to rebrand themselves as IS. Pakistan can delay the implementation of National Action Plan against terrorism and extremism only on its peril.
The purpose of the aforementioned analysis is not to exonerate political parties of the country from the responsibility of the present crises. Unfortunately political parties are in a survival mode being unable to challenge the onslaught of the security establishment. I have pointed out more than once that political parties will have to start with reforming themselves if they intend to start a process of reformation. Political leadership can’t move forward without cutting out the culture of patronage and practicing democracy with in political parties. The treatment meted out to elected local governments by provincial governments in all the four provinces exposes the retarded character of our democratic culture. But as we have experienced many times in the past military rule provides no solution. It rather further aggravates the problems. So people of the country have no other option to than looking towards the Constitution and elected political leadership. The country can’t be perpetually run on ad hoc basis. Conducting national census, formulating the new NFC Award and implementing NAP can’t be delayed anymore.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as elected leader of the country needs to provide leadership. He should lose no time in going to the Parliament for discussing the present crises honestly and frankly. Elected representatives of the people, representing the collective wisdom, can find solutions to the multiple problems faced by the country. There is no point in calling All Parties Conferences for bypassing the Parliament. Both Mian Nawaz Sharif and Imran Khan have to learn to going through the rigours of noisy parliamentary debates. Parliament through its committees can connect with wider civil society by holding public hearings. The aforementioned path for finding solutions is less grandiose and less high sounding but is practical, legitimate and sustainable.

Pakistan - Lahore: Christians’ graveyard flooded by sewage, authorities urged to take note

A Christians’ graveyard flooded by sewage, graves desecrated by the waste water. The graveyard in Sunder Estate village, Nuhlah village, district Raiwand. Christian media reported that local government has turned a blind eye towards the desecration of Christians’ graves.
Christians' graveyard flooded by waste water
It was reported that local government has spilled sewerage water over the graveyard, which had resulted in flooding of the land. Christians complain that no dry space has been left in the graveyard, so that they can bury their dead.
Christians claim that due to lack of drainage of sewerage, Christians’ graveyard has been inundated. As a result the graveyard has turned into a pool. They are urging the authorities to look into the matter, and make arrangements for proper sewerage of the area. Local Christians are expressing grief over the defilement of graves, and are asking for due action from the concerned authorities.

Who will save Pakistan's Christians?

By Geoffrey Johnston

Pakistan's tiny Christian minority is dedicated to their faith. They are the salt of the earth, enduring hard lives, doing menial work and living in modest dwellings. They are peaceful and humble people.
And yet Christians are hated by much of Pakistan's Muslim-majority society, which inflicts terrible religiously-motivated violence on them. It's not right, and the community of nations should say so.
What is the current state freedom in Pakistan? "Alarmingly, conservative attitudes are growing, supported by the increased restrictions and threats to freedom of expression and association from the government and extremist groups," said Kiri Kankhwende, a senior representative for Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a United Kingdom-based human rights organization that advocates for religious liberty around the globe.
Church bombings
There is little doubt that Pakistani Christians are treated as second-class citizens by the state. Kankhwende pointed out that Pakistan's constitution guarantees freedom of religion. "However, Article 2 states that, 'Islam shall be the state religion of Pakistan'," she noted.
"In reality, there are many restrictions on the Christian community as discrimination on the basis of religion is a very deep rooted problem in Pakistan," continued Kankhwende. "Though discrimination may not be direct, Christians and other minorities are unable to rise to high ranking positions in the military and air force."
CSW representatives travelled to Pakistan in 2015 on a fact finding mission. And what they found was disturbing.
Christians are often targeted by Muslim mobs or extremist groups in Pakistan. But on many occasions, the authorities just sit back and do little to protect Christians and other religious minorities. "If you look at the Youhanabad double church bombing," said Kankhwende, "the response from the state and government was at times inconsistent and even discriminatory."
Clergymen speak out
When writing about Pakistan, it's important to gather, if possible, first-hand accounts of persecution. Two Pakistani clergymen spoke to The Whig-Standard about the challenges facing Christians in an increasingly hostile environment. To protect them from reprisals, their names and locations are being withheld.
Are Christians in Pakistan persecuted? "The question you asked can be answered by any Christian in Pakistan, because every Christian faces discrimination or persecution in his daily life," a Pakistani pastor said in an email interview. "Some are physically tortured and the other are mentally tortured through hate, discrimination and fear of (the) blasphemy laws."
Do government officials and police in Pakistan discriminate against Christians? "Yes," replied the pastor, alleging that the police have been "involved in discrimination, torture or persecution of Christians."
In addition, he stated that members of Pakistan's "poor Christian community" are "always reluctant" to register complaints regarding assaults perpetrated against them by Muslims. And they have good reason to believe that they will not be treated fairly by the authorities.
"Many times Christian girls were raped, kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam and forced to marry with Muslim males," the pastor said of common crimes against the Christian community. "But when their families went to police station for filing case against the culprits, police harassed the families and pressurized them to not raise (their) voice and sometimes refused to register the case."
The protection of Christian neighbourhoods and homes is not a priority for the police either, said the pastor. For example, when Muslim mobs attacked and burned Christian homes in Lahore in 2013, police failed to respond. And the perpetrators were never brought to justice.
The pastor alleges that police recently "attacked a church during Sunday worship and tortured (another) pastor on the charge of keeping the sound high in the church." And he also alleged that "if a Christian is charged and arrested by police for some offence, he is treated badly and tortured by police or other prisoners in the jail."
"This kind of discrimination is found not only in the police department," said the pastor, "but also increasingly in other departments of government."
Do Christians face societal persecution in Pakistan? "Yes," answered the pastor. "Christians are facing harassment or persecution in day-to-day life. And Christians are living a life of fear in their workplaces."
Young Pakistani Christians are not spared the wrath of hatemongers. For example, "Christian students are not allowed to drink water from the same tap or same glass from which other Muslim students drink." If they do, Muslim students might falsely accuse them of blasphemy, which is a capital offence in Pakistan. Consequently, Christian students live in constant fear of being threatened with Pakistan's blasphemy laws, said the pastor.
"And Christians are beaten by Muslims, but they cannot complain because they live in fear that they will be accused of blasphemy and no one will listen to them," he said.
Persecution and discrimination
Another Christian clergyman agreed that Christians face persecution and discrimination by police and society. "But these kinds of occurrence depends upon the environment and situations," he said in an email.
Pakistan's notorious blasphemy laws, including Bill 295 C, continue to be used to persecute Christians. False accusations of blasphemy are used by some Muslims to settle personal scores with Christians, or to torment the Christian community. "295 C is a hanging sword for innocent Christians, as people sometime trap people under this law for their personal revenge and create problems for the Christian communities," the clergyman said.
His church has been threatened "on many occasions," stated the clergyman. And he said that militants have attacked the church on three occasions.
"They opened fire on the church's front main wall, where the Cross was hanging," he said. One of those times, the attack was carried out in broad daylight, but the gunmen fled without ever being apprehended.
British inquiry
According to a 2016 report produced by a group of British parliamentarians, "Pakistan presents a particularly bleak environment for individuals wishing to manifest their right to freedom of religion or belief." The report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for International Freedom of Religion or Belief (APPG) found that "there is a real risk of persecution for members of the Ahmadiyya, Christian and Hindu communities in Pakistan, who are perceived as not adhering to the 'orthodox' ideology."
"Forced conversions to Islam, rape, and forced marriage remain commonplace," stated the APPG report. "Such intolerance and such virulent attacks pose a grave threat not only to Pakistan, and the region, but also to the UK, where around 1.2 million British-born Pakistani people now reside."
In addition, the APPG report stressed that "Christian women face persecution and discrimination because they are Christian." And the British parliamentarians alleged that "radical sections of the society, often with impunity from state officials, view conversions of Christian women and their forced marriage to Muslim men as a positive and righteous action."
It is not surprising that significant numbers of Pakistani Christians have fled the country. Many have made the trip to Thailand on tourist visas--with the intention of seeking safe haven. But when their visas expire, they are treated as criminals.
A BBC investigative report that aired early this year showed hundreds of Christians locked up in a cramped detention centre. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that nearly 12,000 Pakistanis sought safe haven in Thailand in 2015.
The APPG report came about after Lord David Alton visited Thailand in Sept. 2015 on a fact finding mission. His investigation revealed that many Pakistani Christian refugees are being incarcerated in crowded, filthy conditions.
The UNHCR has issued certificates affirming that the refugees are actively being considered for asylum. Under international law, such legitimate refugees cannot be legally detained. And yet some are literally languishing in chains.
Given the dire situation of Pakistani Christian refugees in Thailand, Canada should dispatch immigration and refugee officials to process their refugee claims and bring them to Canada. It is time to take for Canada to save the persecuted.

Women of Pakistan:Tales of pride and more prejudice

By Naila Inayat

The brutal machismo behind the honour killing of Internet star Qandeel Baloch and the uproar that followed show a socially divided Pakistan with reformists and rights activists taking on age-old gender biases
She was forcefully married off at age 17 to an elderly man, had a son whose custody she lost after ending her abusive marriage. Fled from her house and took refuge in a shelter home and struggled as a bus hostess before taking up modelling as a career. She lived on her own terms, was unapologetic, spontaneous and definitely was not causing any harm to anyone. Was Qandeel Baloch a threat, was her presence as dreadful as the looming fear of terrorism? Why does the freedom enjoyed by one woman become a stigma on Pakistan society, values and above all the ‘honour’ of a brother who she supported financially?
Qandeel, a social media celebrity, was strangled to death on July 16, allegedly by her brother in the name of family honour, in Multan, Punjab province. After the police officers assigned on the case bungled the investigation, woman inspector Attiya Jaffari has been given the challenging task of getting justice for her. Qandeel’s father filed a report against both his sons, Mohammad Aslam and Waseem Baloch, who was the killer. Police are also questioning Aslam, a junior Pakistan Army officer. The Multan police are including cleric Mufti Abdul Qavi in the probe.
Retired judge, Justice Nasir Aslam Zahid, said, “There is a lot of pressure on the judges to settle such cases amicably. The biggest loophole in the law is that of compromise and there should be no compromise on murder. No religion and law allow forgiveness after murder. The Qandeel Baloch case has now become a public interest story because of media’s interest. In such cases, the police lose focus and do not collect evidence with seriousness.”
Today Qandeel has become yet another figure in the long list of thousands of Pakistani women who are victims of femicide every year. Honour crimes across Pakistan have been on the rise since the last three years. According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 1,096 women and 88 men were killed for honour in 2015. In 2014, 1,005 women, including 82 children, were murdered, up from 869 women in 2013.
Read: A Litany of wrongs
The last four months have witnessed a surge in such cases. Last month in Lahore, Zeenat, 18, was burnt alive by her mother. Her crime was to marry her childhood friend rather than succumbing to her mother’s pressure for an arranged marriage.
In another case, near Gujranwala, a mother slit the throat of her seven-month pregnant daughter Muqaddas Bibi who three years ago had married a man she loved.
A young schoolteacher in Murree, Maria Sadaqat, 19, was tortured and set on fire for refusing a marriage proposal from a school principal’s son who was divorced and twice her age.
Earlier this year, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif resolved to eradicate the evil of honour killings.
The vow came in the wake of the Oscar-winning documentary, A Girl in the River, which highlights the issue. However, since then no fresh legislation has been tabled and the existing bill has been marred by controversies.
Imaam Mohammed Abdullah of Lahore said there is no place for women like Baloch in an Islamic society. “I laugh at the people who are saying she was wrongfully killed. She brought Allah’s wrath on herself and may I ask you what was so honourable in what she was doing?” he asked.
Despite an increased number of women in parliament and government, Pakistan has not moved forward significantly with regard to violence against women and discriminatory laws. Honour killings take place in virtually every part of Pakistan. In Abbottabad, Ambreen, a teenager who helped her friend elope, was tortured and then tied to a bus seat and set on fire. A jirga—a traditional Pashtun assembly of leaders that make consensual decisions in accordance with the Islamic law—ordered Ambreen’s killing as a warning to others.
“One of the main reasons is the law of qisas and diyat, which protect murderers who can pay the diyat (compensation) and get away with impunity. If the father is the killer, the son can forgive him and if the son is the killer, the father forgives him and this law enables the criminal to go unpunished,” says Dr Rubina Saigol, a Lahore-based sociologist.

Saigol explains that as long as property relations are there and women are seen as (property/chattel), they will not get full status as humans and citizens with the right to life (as guaranteed in the constitution). The practice of killing on the pretext of honour will continue —as it is an easy way to get rid of unwanted women and seize their property or otherwise gain economically or to get rid of an enemy by making him a co-accused. The practice is thus a product of the socio-economic relations of Pakistan and is rooted in material conditions which rely upon and support patriarchy as a material and ideological system that benefits men and subordinates women.

PAKISTAN: Is racial discrimination an issue in Pakistan?

The extent to which Pakistan has complied with human rights standards set out in the International Convention of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), will be assessed by a United Nation’s expert committee in Geneva on August 16-17, this year. The committee will look at a report to be presented by the government of Pakistan, encapsulating three periodic reports — 21st, 22nd and 23rd. The previous two reports were not submitted on time, hence the assessment period of six years (2009 — 2015).
This convention is one of the core human rights treaties that the international community managed to achieve as early as 1965. Pakistan, considering itself a supporter of a world free of racial equality, became a party to the treaty without any reservations soon after it was offered voluntary ratification in 1966.
Through the Treaty Implementation committee, the federal ministries for law and justice and commerce have been leading the preparation of the Pakistan’s compliance reports since 2014 — a burden that previously rested on the foreign office.
Now that clarity has been achieved on the institutional responsibility of adherence to international commitments on human rights, the focus must be on improving the quality content of the reporting as well as achieving the recognition, protection and fulfilment of those human rights in Pakistan.
International reporting, representing Pakistan’s official narrative, has relied on denial of facts, citing normative assurances and a deflection of issues because officials and consultants preparing the reports were handicapped by the stalled progress on human rights and proper functioning of institutions. Unfortunately, the current report to the UN CERD committee hasn’t succeeded in overcoming these difficulties.
The report claims that racial discrimination is “non-existent” in Pakistan. This can be challenged on several accounts. For instance, the claim is challengeable in the consistent economic, social and political deprivation of Pakistanis of African origin (Sheedis), the diminishing rights of the Kalash people as a result of forced conversions and occupation of means of their subsistence, and the government’s inability to document nomads, gypsies and tribesmen. The report’s claim can also be challenged on account of the mass killings of minority sects.
The government’s comprehension of racism grossly ignores the pervasive ethnocentrism that creates extremely dangerous sense of ‘otherness — a cause behind interprovincial conflicts and different forms of violence. If ethnocentrism had not plagued politics and society, linguistic groups, including the Punjabis would not be complaining about their language being ignored by the state. Therefore, it is a convenient claim as long as we do not recognise racial discrimination.
Pakistan was not a signatory to the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Family Members. The report stated that Pakistan was not a labour-receiving country, and hence not a party to this convention. Why then, is Pakistan a party to the convention on racial discrimination, as accession to it relies on the acknowledgement that problems do exist.
Seemingly, the reporting to international treaty bodies will have to get rid of the state’s narrative, crafted to defend dictatorships that relied on the techniques of denying facts and averting all chances of accountability. Our image in the outside world cannot be starkly different than our internal reality and our relation and place among the nations will depend on the quality of improvement of internal processes.
The world has come to realise that racism is a historical as well as contemporary phenomenon. No state or society is immune to it. Therefore, there is no way forward than admitting its existence, engaging in reforms and repairing the harm through social processes. Although the Constitution of Pakistan discourages discrimination in several forms, we do not have a proper law that defines and punishes discrimination.
Racial discrimination does exist in Pakistan in several subtle as well as manifest forms, and unfortunately, in state policies as well. We can choose to turn a blind eye, but the price will be social conflict, underdevelopment and political instability.
We have to choose between continuing to live in a society fragmented on the basis of caste, colour, descent, ethnicity and language, or make efforts to ensure equality, justice and accountability through internal and external scrutiny according to international standards of human rights. The earlier choice will leave us with the status quo the on the other hand, the latter can deliver rule of law and better governance. The choice rests with us.

Pakistan - PPP decides to make changes in Sindh cabinet

Pakistan People’s Party today decided make changes in the Sindh cabinet including bringing in a new Chief Minister.

Spokesperson Senator Farhatullah Babar said that the decision was taken when some senior leaders of the Party today called on former
President Asif Ali Zardari and Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari in Dubai today.  Sindh chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah was also present in the meeting.

Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari is scheduled to return to Karachi early in the week starting from Monday to meet provincial Party leaders and Party MPAs before finalizing changes in the Sindh cabinet.